Blogger: Rachelle Gardner
I recently read a fascinating long-form article on Medium, called “How Hitler Nearly Destroyed the Great American Novel,” written by Ryan Holiday. If you’ve got 30 minutes and you want to read some incredible history that encompasses the first American publication of Mein Kampf, copyright law, a small U.S. publisher being sued by Hitler, and how a lone novelist caught in the middle found his career hamstrung by it all, then give it a read.
Besides its interesting historical significance, I found the article to have an incredibly important lesson for all of us in publishing. As we know, the publishing journey (like most life journeys) isn’t simple or clear; it has unexpected twists and turns and usually many setbacks. There are times when random factors completely outside the author’s control spell disaster for a book.
Sometimes a publisher merges with another, or is bought by another, and a contracted book gets lost in the shuffle, hence failing to make any headway in the market. Sometimes an acquiring editor departs the publishing company, leaving their books “orphaned” without an advocate. Sometimes a book can’t find an audience because it releases at the exact same time as a similar book written by somebody famous. The truth is that hard work and a terrific product won’t guarantee success — and this is something with which we somehow need to make peace.
The story on Medium recounts the journey of an early-20th-century novelist, John Fante, who was contracted with the publisher who was sued by Hitler, and whose book got lost in the shuffle. While there were complex reasons for Fante’s book not selling very well (there always are), the bad timing was probably a primary factor.
Bad luck. Sometimes that’s what it boils down to.
When it’s our turn to experience random back luck, how do we respond? That’s what will determine how happy we are in our journey.
Here’s an excerpt from the article:
“I think the one thing that a writer must avoid is bitterness,” John Fante told Ben Pleasants in an interview in 1979. “I think it’s the one fault that can destroy him. It can shrivel him up… I’ve fought it all my life.” His son, James Fante, looks back on his father’s complicated journey with regret and pride:
I’m not naive enough to think good work always wins out in the end. There are plenty of painters who died in Auschwitz. I don’t necessarily think there is justice in the world, it’s that he had the strength of character not to let it break him.
Strength of character. That’s what we’re building on this complex journey. And that’s what will help us stand strong even in the face of unfairness.
John Fante’s story had a happy ending — he went on to great success as a screenwriter and late in his life, his novels were rediscovered and are still published and sold today. Not everyone’s path will go this way, we just don’t know. Either way, I think it’s so important to stay strong and not let disappointing outcomes break us.
How do you stand strong in the face of disappointment?